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Susanna and the elders by Lorenzo Lotto 1517 - Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Saucy Susannas sing

Hastings musicians, Susannah Appleyard Soprano and Robert Aldwinckle piano accompanist, have concocted a concert of  famous singing Susannas, immortalised by Handel, Mozart and Carlisle Floyd, to celebrate a well loved soprano who is in her prime, writes Chris Cormack.

Susannah Appleyard, singing Purcell with Barefoot Opera

Susanna’s story in the Bible, the book of Daniel, is one of the more erotic stories to be found and it is no surprise that it is an apocryphal addition, the subject of numerous paintings and both a Handel Oratorio and the Carlisle Floyd opera which together form the mainstay of Saturday’s concert. Set in Babylon, two Jewish elders appointed as judges are  attracted to the beautiful and pious Susanna after watching her ‘skinny-dipping’, but she rejects their advances, accompanied as they are with threats to expose her as unchaste. She is then accused of adultery with a young man and condemned to death. In the bible young Daniel intervenes, and proves her innocence. Carlisle Floyd’s version sets the story in modern bible belt Tennessee with Christian elders and embellishes it with rape, murder and a stand-off against angry townspeople at rifle point. This operatic version of Susannah is second only to Porgy and Bess as the most performed American opera. The Opera was first produced in the 1950s when Hollywood blockbusters on biblical themes were all the rage.

Robert Aldwinckle, Susannah's voice coach at Trinity College

Handel’s early career in eighteenth century England was marked by numerous successful stagings of his Italian style opera based mainly on classical themes. However the popularity of this form was waning. Handel found an altogether wider audience in the Oratorio, an unstaged music-drama with biblical themes which were much more familiar to the burgeoning middle classes of the time. Handel was prompted to ‘invent’ the oratorio by the Bishop of London, who had banned all staged operas on biblical subjects. Although it is an oratorio, Susanna is described as ‘almost a light chamber opera’, with an ‘English’ sound influenced by folk music and folk idioms and with rhythmic cadences suited to the English language. Similarly, Carlisle Floyd’s music is influenced by Appalachian folk melodies.

Handel’s aria Crystal Streams is sung by Susanna while she seeks relief from the summer heat by bathing naked in a garden stream and is longing for her absent husband:

Crystal streams in murmurs flowing,
Balmy breezes gently blowing,
Rob of sweets the jasmine bow’r
Bow the pines that shade yon mountain,
Curl the softly trickling fountain,
Cool the noontide’s raging pow’r.

In two further arias sung in this concert, the sensuous beauty of Susanna is conjured up:

Ask if yon damask rose be sweet,
That scents the ambient air;
Then ask each shepherd that you meet
If dear Susanna’s fair.

Beneath the cypress’ gloomy shade
Where silver lilies paint the glade,
I saw the lovely shepherd laid
Whose loss I still deplore.

The fourth aria from Handel’s Susanna, to be sung on Saturday, deplores Susanna’s condemnation:

If guiltless blood be your intent, I here resign it all;
Fearless of death, as innocent, I triumph in my fall.
And if to fate my days must run,
O righteous Heav’n, thy will be done!

Susannah Appleyard arias from Carlisle Floyd’s opera, Ain’t it a pretty Night  and the Trees on the Mountain , are in an altogether more modern style that owes something to the 20th century musical.

Mozart’s Susanna from the Marriage of Figaro is more ‘saucy’ in character. It is the day of her wedding to Figaro and Susanna, the chambermaid of Countess Almaviva, has to deal with the Count’s infatuation with her. The Countess and Susanna have developed a plan whereby Susanna agrees to meet Count Almaviva on her wedding day on the understanding that he plans to exercise his ‘droit de seigneur’. Susanna waits in the garden for the count and sings soft words really intended for Figaro, knowing that he is eavesdropping and the count will think she is singing for him:

Giunse alfin il momento                                  The moment finally arrives
Che godro senz’affanno                                   When I’ll enjoy without haste
In braccio all’idol mio                                      In the arms of my beloved…
Timide cure uscite dal mio petto!                  Fearful anxieties, get out of my heart!
A turbar non venite il mio diletto.                 Do not come to disturb my delight.
O come par che all’amoroso foco                   Oh, how it seems that to amorous fires
L’amenita del loco,                                            The comfort of the place,
La terra e il ciel risponda.                               Earth and heaven respond,
Come la notte i furti miei risponda               As the night responds to my ruses.

Deh vieni, non tardar, o gioja bella              Oh, come, don’t be late, my beautiful joy
Vieni ove amore per goder t’appella            Come where love calls you
Finche non splende in ciel notturna             Until night’s torches no longer shine
Finche l’aria e ancor bruna,                           As long as the air is still dark
E il mondo tace.                                                 And the world quiet.
Qui mormora il ruscel, qui scherza
l’aura                                                                   The river murmurs and the light plays
Che col dolce susurro il cor ristaura            That restores the heart with sweet ripples
Qui ridono i fioretti e l’erba e fresca            Little flowers laugh and the grass is fresh
Ai piaceri d’amor qui tutto adesca.              Everything entices one to love’s pleasures
Vieni, ben mio, tra queste piante ascose.    Come dear, among these hidden plants.
Vieni, vieni!                                                        Come, come!
Ti vo’ la fronte incoronar di rose.                 I want to crown you with roses.

Text by Lorenzo da Ponte
Translation by Naomi Gurt Lind

Susannah Appleyard met Robert Aldwinckle when he became her vocal coach at Trinity College of Music, London, a friendship which grew as they are both Hastings based where they are active on the local music scene.

Susannah is well known locally for her soloist performances with the Hastings Philharmonic Choir and co-operation with Jenny Miller and Barefoot Opera. She has upcoming performances locally as soprano soloist for the Claremont School  Carmina Burana  at St. Clements on 21 June and in the ‘Opera Garden party‘ at the St. Leonard’s Festival, at Warrior Square on 13 July.

Robert, apart from being on the professorial staff at Trinity College, is a renowned virtuoso on harpsichord who has performed in the top concert halls around the World in a long and distinguished career and recorded numerous acclaimed CDs of mainly Baroque music. He assists the Bexhill Choral Society and is closely involved with performances at the Holy Trinity Church. Recently he has formed the Hastings Bach Choir which meets bi-weekly at the Holy Trinity Church to rehearse and perform mainly Bach Cantatas. The choir is due to make its first performances in June and August. Robert would be interested in hearing from people who wish to join this choir. This Saturday’s concert will include some solo performances from him including Mozart’s Rondeau for piano in a minor.

Susannah Appleyard sings arias from Handel’s Susanna,  Mozart’s Figaro, and  Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah. Robert Aldwinckle accompanies and plays works by Handel and Mozart. Saturday 10 May at 7:30pm Holy Trinity Church, Robertson Street, Hastings TN34 1HT    Tickets on the door £10 (£8 concessions)

Posted 10:04 Wednesday, May 7, 2014 In: Music & Sound

1 Comment

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  1. Barbara Rogers

    Contact for Robert Aldwinkle please?

    Comment by Barbara Rogers — Friday, May 9, 2014 @ 10:43

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